Bear Comes Home

Zabor, Rafi. The Bear Comes Home. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1979.

Reason read: May is Music month.

In a nutshell:The Bear Comes Home is a story about a talking, walking, pants-wearing, saxophone-playing bear. Wrap your brain around that for a moment and then consider this: the bear is an avid reader, talks philosophy and emotionally and physically loves a woman. I knew from the inside flap this book was going to be an interesting read, especially when I read, “a vexed, physically passionate and anatomically correct inter-species love affair with a beautiful woman named Iris.” Um. Okay. It’s the “anatomically correct” piece that really puts it into perspective. But! Trust me when I say this is a deep book. I mean deeeep. Zabor is a little long winded when it comes to subjects he is passionate about. There are pages and page about jazz music and the musicians who perfected it, but somehow the entire thing works. The Bear is a little too angsty but considering his circumstances, stuck in the human world, who could blame him?

As an aside, I have two Natalie connections to this book. This time “Dancing Bear” from Leave Your Sleep (of course) and the mention of the song “But Not For Me” which Natalie has covered.
Another aside, I loved, loved, loved the musical references. Mention of Prince’s Black Album made me swoon (been missing him a lot lately).

Line to like, “It had to do with the heaviness of obsession” (p 363).

Author fact: Zabor is a musician as well as an author. Obviously.

Book trivia: Bear Comes Home features a few real life musicians. Obviously. Another piece of trivia: it won the PEN Faulkner award.

Nancy said: Pearl said Bear Comes Home is a “slightly different take on music in fiction” (Book Lust p 164).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Music and Musicians” (p 164).


Spring Pages

I will be traveling for part of May so who knows how many books I’ll be able to read for this month. Here is the list I will attempt:

Fiction:

  • Man in the Gray Flannel Suit by Sloan Wilson – in honor of May being Wilson’s birth month.
  • Ethel and Ernest by Raymond Briggs – in honor of Graphic Novel month being in May.
  • Mariner’s Compass by Earlene Fowler – in honor of May is Museum Month.
  • Bear Comes Home by Rafi Zabor- in honor of May being Music Month.
  • Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters – in honor of the first Thursday in May being Prayer Week.
  • Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian – in honor of my father’s birth month. As a kid he read this book.
  • Five Children and It by E. Nesbit – in honor of May being Nesbit’s birth month.

Nonfiction:

  • Farthest North by Fridtjof Nansen – in honor of Peary’s birth month being in May. From one explorer to another.

Series continuations:

  • Prelude to Foundation by Isaac Asimov – to continue the series started in January in honor of Asimov’s birth month.
  • Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope – to continue the series started in honor of Trollope’s birth month in April.

Why the Grateful Dead Matter

Benson, Michael. Why the Grateful Dead Matter. New Hampshire: University Press of New England, 2016.

Reason read: Early review for LibraryThing.

I decided to write this review a little differently. Instead of waiting until I had read the entire thing before commenting I decided this time I would write comments as I went. Here’s what happened:

I have to admit, I found some of Benson’s writing a little hokey. When he said, “there’s an app for that” I practically groaned out loud. So, this is how it’s going to be I thought out loud.

The structure of Why the Grateful Dead Matter is a little chaotic. That is to say, there is no real structure to the chapters. Just open the book and read. Doesn’t matter where you start. Doesn’t matter where you end.

This is essentially an argument without hard facts. Don’t expect an authoritarian narrative. No works cited. No in-depth research. It’s as if this book blossomed from a late night debate (possibly fueled by alcohol?); a debate with a friend about why, 50 years later, the Grateful Dead are doing a Farewell Tour. Picture it: the debate turned into Why The Grateful Dead Matter conversation. The reasons why they matter come fast and furious from Benson, political debate style, until someone says, “Man, you should write that s–t down!” And he does.

The chapter on Ripple being so zen is flimsy and without substance. It started off as a strong argument and somehow got off topic at the end. It petered out feebly when one of the last examples of zen is the Grateful Dead playing a benefit for the Zen Center. There is little substance in regards to HOW the music is “zen” and yet, the chapter on the instruments being custom made was well organized and detailed. Benson knows their equipment and knows it well.

This is one for the fans. Read this if you already love the music and just want to share in the common interest. Read this book if you already know why the Grateful Dead matter and you just want to agree, possibly shouting “Exactly! Right on, man!”

As an aside, I just bought my husband the compilation “30 Trips” for his birthday. I’m hoping Trips will contain the versions of songs Benson mentions as outstanding in Why the Grateful Dead Matter. Here is a partial list of the songs I need to find:

  • Wharf Rat 12/31/78 (particularly Jerry Garcia’s guitar solo)
  • China Cat Sunflower 1971 (Bucknell University)

Author fact: Benson is all over with place with his interests. According to the back cover, he writes about music, sports, crime, film, the military, and politics.

Book trivia: the early review copy I received had photographs in it, some I had never seen before. Very cool.


March Musings

What can I say about March? Personally, it’s the St. Patrick’s Day 10k road race. I’ve been injured so it’s hard to anticipate how well I will or won’t do. I went for my first outdoor run this weekend and ran 7.5 with a steady sub-10 pace. That felt strong! Happy girl! And speaking of strong, here’s what’s on deck for the books:

  1. Naked Lunch by William Burroughs – in honor of Jack Kerouac’s birth month. Jack and William were friends…
  2. Family Man by Jayne Ann Krentz – in honor of Krentz’s birth month
  3. The Brontes by Juliet Barker – in honor of March being literature month (over 1,000 pages!)
  4. Means of Ascent by Robert Caro – to continue the series started in honor of Presidents Day being in February (EB)
  5. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson – in honor of Maine becoming a state in March
  6. The Assistant by Bernard Malamud – Malamud died in March.
  7. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adichie – in honor of the Academy Awards being in February and March (HOAYS was made into a movie)

For Fun:

  1. Confessional: still reading Center of the World by Jacqueline Sheehan

For LibraryThing:

  1. I am supposed to receive Why the Grateful Dead Matter by Michael Benson as a January Early Review book sometime in the month of March…As an aside, there are a few other books I haven’t received and feel bad that I never read or reviewed them. I am sure they have all been published by now and so (I can’t believe I’m saying this) I’m going to see if a library has them. If they do, I will read and review as if I got them as Early Reviews from LibraryThing. The first non-early review I am going to tackle is a book I was supposed to received in 2009 – Sanctuary of Outcasts, a memoir by Neil White.

So Many Roads

Browne, David. So Many Roads: the Life and Times of the Grateful Dead. Read by Sean Runnette. Minneapolis: HighBridge Audio, 2015.

Reason read: I was chosen to review this an part of the LibraryThing Early Review program. I’m calling it “training” for the July Dead shows in Chicago! The big question is, how did LibraryThing know I scored tickets? ha.

This is being touted as one of the most unique & comprehensive books about the Grateful Dead ever to be written. Author David Browne claims even hardcore fans will learn something new. Since I am a blossoming 21st century Deadhead I thought I would invite my husband to listen in to give his opinion. He helped in the writing of this review.

As an audio book, this was a bit different. Neither my husband or I could follow the format at first. The prologue jumps to 1970 pretty early which confused my resident Dead aficionado. Unlike other biographies this one is not in linear chronological order. The organization is as such: Browne chooses a date significant to the Grateful Dead’s history whether it be fateful like the day Jerry and Bob met, historic like day the infamous wall of sound was conceived, or tragic like the day Pigpen died.¬† He then centers a chapter around that day in time. But, as it was pointed out, Browne doesn’t stick to that date. He’ll leave the time frame and circle back to it again and again within the chapter. From an audio standpoint, it makes for interesting listening.

Extremely detailed and factual, Browne is spot on. Drawing from a multitude of interviews he is able bring the culture of the Grateful Dead to life. There is a sensitivity to his storytelling. For example, Hart’s pain when his father ran off with over $75,000 of the band’s earnings. The story goes much deeper than Mickey’s self imposed exile from the band and Browne illustrates the journey to forgiveness beautifully. Everything about the Dead is there: the drugs, the women, the struggles with fame, traveling, relationships within the band, the highs and lows, but mostly importantly, the music that continues to influence generations. The attention given to the Grateful Dead sound was particularly enthralling. As someone who latches onto thought provoking lyrics, the sections including Robert Hunter and his collaboration with the band are my favorite.
As a result of listening to David Browne’s So Many Roads I understand the Grateful Dead much better. I am looking forward to their Fare Thee Well tour in Chicago! I will not only be listening with my ears, but with my heart as well.

Author fact: David Browne has written other books which can be found on his own website: David Browne


Last Train to Memphis

Guralnick, Peter. Last Train to Memphis: the Rise of Elvis Presley. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1994.

When Guralnick calls Elvis a “myth” is he referring to the unfolding of events that created rock and roll, or is he implying Elvis had an unverifiable existence? Was Elvis a false notion? I’m not really sure. What I am sure about is Guralnick’s ability to tease apart the smaller pieces of Elvis Aron Presley’s early life; the moments that led up to his stardom. There is certainly enough emphasis on Elvis’s shy and polite and humble beginnings as a sheltered country & western wannabe who couldn’t play the guitar worth beans. There is also emphasis on the key people surrounding Elvis during his rise to fame. It is obvious as Elvis’ stardom rose, the less he was able to discern who was trustworthy. He needed an entourage and he struggled with identity, but a growing confidence led him to expect adoration and special treatment, especially when it came to cars and women. I appreciated the historical context of the songs Elvis made famous, especially since someone else wrote them and almost always sang them first. Everyone knows Elvis made ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ famous, but few recognize the true origins of the song. I also appreciated the emphasis placed on Elvis’ connection to family. Elvis may have had a taste of reality when he had to enter the military, but he had to swallow it whole when his mother died. The event changed his life. This is where Last Train to Memphis ends. The sequel, Careless Love picks up the biography.
Last Train to Memphis includes photographs (as it should), but that’s not the cool part. The cool part is that the photos are not clumped together in the middle of the book like most biographies, but rather they begin each chapter like a little surprise.

As an aside, I found it interesting that in the author’s note, Guralnick mentions more than once that he felt he needed to “rescue” Elvis.

Reason read: Elvis was born in January. Need I say more?

Author fact: This is silly. I have been misspelling Peter’s last name for the longest time. I have been leaving out the N. It’s GuralNick.

Book trivia: Last Train to Memphis covers the years of 1935 – 1958. Careless Love continues where Last Train leaves off.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Elvis On My Mind” (p 76).


Ready for a Brand New Beat

Kurlansky, Mark. Ready for a Brand New Beat: How “Dancing in the Street” Became the Anthem For a Changing America. New York: Riverhead Books, 2013.

Don’t be fooled by the title. This work is much bigger than the humble beginnings and subsequent impact of just one song. Retracing the musical roots of rhythm and blues, jazz, and rock and roll Kurlansky tackles the history of these musical genres (and the musicians who played them) and leaves no stone unturned. The best part of this book was the unveiling of the profound impact technology had on music. As technology continues to change the course of marketing music, buying music, and listening to music it is worth remembering that this trend started a long time ago.

There is one prediction I can make about this book. Whether Kurlansky intends for this to happen is another matter, but I bet people will be reaching for their old Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley albums after reading Ready for a Brand New Beat.

Favorite part: in the acknowledgments Kurlansky thanks Steve Jordan. That is too cool.

Reason read: As part of the Early Review program for LibraryThing…

Author fact: Mark Kurlansky is one of Pearl’s “Too Good To Miss” authors.

Book trivia: Kurlansky thanks drummer Steve Jordan, one of my favorites.